Skinned Knuckles and Sleepless Nights!

Roberta's middle chainring was worn and needed replacing. This seemed like the sort of basic job I should be able to do myself but when I phoned to order a new ring I was told that it wouldn't be possible without removing the crank as the middle ring bolts on from behind. I didn't want to remove the crank, in fact this is almost a taboo subject. I once had problems with my bottom bracket and asked a clubmate, a classic old time cyclist who had once worked in a bike shop, to have a look at it for me. It took him two hours to make a tool to take the dustcap off the crank but he was still unable to remove the crank itself. I concluded that my chainset was an obscure item that could only be removed by the best equipped bike shop, certainly not by me. Keith Edwards however, assured me that it was perfectly possible to do it without removing the crank and I decided to give it a try.

Chainring replacement 001

I set about this methodically. First I took a photo in case I couldn't remember how it all fitted together. I got some old ice cream tubs to collect the bits and wrote little labels to put in plastic bags describing what each bit was and where it went. I didn't have a new chainring at this stage – I wanted to see if I could get the old one off first. The outer ring came off easily although I removed large chunks of skin from my knuckles as I caught them on the chainring teeth with every turn of the allen key. Note to self – wear gloves when working near to sharp teeth!

Chainring replacement 002 You can always tell a lady by her hands!

I then undid the bolts from the other side. No problem! I now had a little collection of bolts and spacers. Cleaned everything up, looking good. Dennis wandered in and remarked 'You should leave that to the experts'.
'Its not rocket science' I replied haughtily. 'No one is born knowing how to fix bikes'. But this was all bravado. I was overcome with waves of panic. What had I done? I was never going to get all this back together. Why hadn't I left well alone? I'd already forgotten how it went together. Beautiful weather and now my best bike was in bits and unrideable. What had I done? I remembered I had the instructions for assembling the chainset. Looking at that just made me feel worse!


I was now breaking out into a cold sweat! I posted anxious appeals for help to Keith Edwards and on the CTC forum for good measure, and checked every half hour or so for replies. I fretted all evening and then lay awake pondering my folly until I eventually fell asleep only to wake up at 6.15 still worrying. This was ridiculous! I orderd a new ring from dotbike and then phoned them for advice. I've never used them before but the guy I spoke to was great, laughing at my panic and telling me that everyone felt like that the first time they took one to bits. He assured me that it was not a difficult job, just a bit fiddly. I'd also been doing some research into those cranks. They had self extracting bolts. Did this mean what I thought it did? Indeed so – no special tools required, no need to remove the dustcap. That was a great discovery, cranks hold no terror for me any more!

Panic over! Keith continued to send helpful advice, I particularly liked his idea of using bag ties to hold it all together while I got the bolts in. The new chainring had arrived when I returned from riding Why? this morning and so I set to work.

Chainring replacement 003

I first attached the spacers to the inner ring with bag ties. I then did the same with those for the middle ring and attached the ring to the spider. This was great as I could now see exactly how it went together. I could also see that I'd attached the spacers to the wrong side of the inner ring. Duh! I retied them in the right place but this didn't seem too successful and eventually I just fitted them one at a time. It was a bit fiddly but it was a great sensation when I got it all lined up right and the bolt screwed in. Once I'd got one I just needed to repeat the process 4 more times and I was in business. The outer ring went on easily, I was able to hold the top hat nuts (female connectors the man from Dotbike said) with my finger to stop them spinning. Then it was just a matter of tightening it all up as tight as I could get it. The great advantage of being female is you don't need to worry about stripping the threads! I learnt from my mistakes and wore gloves so I didn't strip my knuckles either!

Job done. What was all the fuss about?? I just needed to fit a new chain, a job I've done many times, then a quick test ride to make sure all was well. It was. I learnt a lot fom doing this and am very grateful to Keith for his advice and encouragement. I'll just try not to get into such a flap next time I take anything to bits!

22 comments on “Skinned Knuckles and Sleepless Nights!”

  1. Kern wrote:

    Congrats. I thought the "flap" added a nice touch of drama.

  2. Patrick wrote:

    Yes, congrats! Remembering which bit goes where is really the only tricky thing about bicycle maintenance. And confidence, even more, perhaps. Having two bikes helps too, so you know you won't be stuck with no ride. The only job that gets me tearing my hair out is setting the stupid front mech for triple chainrings. It requires the skill of a watchmaker. The rest of the bike is easy (but often dirty).

    Well done Keith Edwards as well 🙂 .

  3. Keith Edwards wrote:

    Hilary I do apologise for not saying use a tube to extend the Alan key, to avoid the cuts. Sorry about that.
    Well done for doing it, although not "Rocket Science" it is about remembering where things go and being methodical.
    The other trick that you can do is as you remove the parts you put them down in the order they come apart so that eventually you have them built up as they would be when fitted.
    What you can also do is take digital photos of every step and where all parts go.
    Digital cameras are great to help you remember how things came apart as you can take hundreds of pics plus they are in the order of removing.
    Well done
    What does HWMBO think of your achievement?

  4. Garry wrote:

    Well done. The odd cut is normal when working at the front end of the bike. Mary's bike needed serious maintenance recently. I replaced front derailleur which was broken, then had to put in a new cable, get gears working properly, then when she tried it she said it was okay but there was a clunk from the back wheel. Split rim (from brake wear). Changed wheel, then put on a new cassette and a new chain with a very difficult connector. Had to put on a new tyre as well as original stiff plastic rim tape. Cut my thumb on tyre bead. I had so many cuts I practically needed a blood transfusion. My blood type is 0 positive Grease positive.

  5. Hilary wrote:

    Apologies for the lack of action photos. I did mean to take some but when taking it off my hands were covered in grease from removing the chain and when I put it all back on I was too involved in hoping I'd got it right!

    I think HWMBO is impressed but I think he is more relieved that he doesn't have to listen to me rabbiting on about it any more! 🙂

  6. Chris wrote:

    I must admit I've never removed those chain ring bolts. I splashed out on a £2.99 cleaning tool I hope will allow me to get in between the rings and get rid of all that muck, but it is satisfying to remove the individual cassette sprockets and give them a good scrub.

    I remember my granddad using broom handles to slot on (piston?) rings to keep them in the right order when we would strip his car engines. He loved tinkering. We bought him a trolley jack for his 80th birthday 🙂

  7. Kern wrote:

    Hilary, I just noticed in the top photo "ROB..." on Roberta. Did you really have her name embossed on the frame? 🙂

  8. Hilary wrote:

    No, its Roberts on the bottom bracket shell! :LOL: Not even I am that daft!

  9. Mary wrote:

    Hilary, I bow to you. For your bravery and for demonstrating how jobs like this can be done. Its amazing how I fret about doing bits on the bike, then once I get going, the job isnt half as difficult as my unconfident brain says it was.

    Saying that, I have as yet to do what you have done! At some point I will have to do this bit too. 🙂

    Great isnt it to be able to service your own machine.

  10. Patrick wrote:

    Hilary wrote: Not even I am that daft!

    Having your bike's name embossed on the bottom bracket would be a bit much 😮 but Peter Quaife has his name on the top tube of his Roberts bike. I've thought of doing it on mine (with my own name). Some examples. Don't know how easy they are to stick on though, or how long they last.

  11. Hilary wrote:

    I did have the option of having my name on the top tube but I didn't go for it. On reflection a short nickname like 'Hils' might have been nice.

    I didn't know you could have this done retrospectively. I presume if they are good quality decals and you apply them carefully they should last OK.

  12. Patrick wrote:

    Going to look into it. But I'd want them putting on straight and in exactly the same place on each side.

  13. Chris wrote:

    I'm just going to change my name by deed poll to 'Dahon Piccolo' – it's cheaper and easier.

  14. Hilary wrote:

    Patrick wrote

    I'd want them putting on straight and in exactly the same place on each side.

    Yep, thats the tricky bit!

  15. Mick F wrote:

    Sorry for not checking in so often, but I have enjoyed the Saga of the Ring, and hope you hand gets well soon. You aren't the first to get hurt with chainrings, and no doubt you won't be the last.

    I've used work gloves before now!

    Well done with doing it and surviving to tell the tale! It isn't rocket science, as you now know well.

    I see from the photo that the inner ring is hardly worn, perhaps the outer one too?
    Is it that you mainly use the middle ring and rarely the others?

    I use all three of mine in equal measure. Maybe it's a difference in riding style.


  16. Chris wrote:

    Mick, rather than 'riding style' I suppose that the middle ring will cop for the greatest wear when someone such as Hilary lives in a place so flat by comparison to your part of the world. You will regularly have stiffer climbs and fast, long descents, I would have thought.

    If I only cycled within a ten-mile radius of my house I could get away with a three speed hub. Or even single speed.

  17. Hilary wrote:

    Flat? The IOW isn't flat tho I must admit its a lot less hilly than Cornwall. It is 1in 4 from my house to the sea front but as its basically a dead end I don't go that way too often. The inner ring is 26 and only really used when cycling with panniers. The outer ring gets a fair amount of wear but I do use the middle one most. There aren't many long fast descents here but even if there were I'm afraid I'm more likely to be clinging to my brakes than pushing a big gear!

    The hand is fine thanks – I was just sympathy mungering, tho I will wear work gloves next time!

  18. Chris wrote:

    Okay, flatter by comparison. Where I ride I make use of all three chain rings. I do like to blast along on the big ring when I can, but I was on the little ring a fair few times on my last ride, for instance.

    I used my £2.99 brush thing to give the chainset a bit of a clean today. I'm hopeful that I can wear down the rings evenly and ditch the whole lot to upgrade to Tiagra. But not for a while yet...

  19. Hilary wrote:

    My rings are made of stern stuff, it took best part of 30,000 miles to wear that one out. The outer has quite a bit of life left in it and I don't expect I'll ever wear the inner out – unless I go on a camping tour of the Alps! 🙂

  20. Mick F wrote:

    30,000 miles!

    No doubt I've easily cycled that far, but to be honest, I don't think I've had the same chainset that long, not that I've kept a ride's diary long enough to tell how far I've ridden ...... and I've never worn a ring out.

    The longest I've ever had a chainset was a Stronglight 99 double bought in 1985 or so and in constant use until 2004.- I still have it now, but used as a single on our utility bike, Barbarella. Over the years of use, I swapped the rings quite a bit. The complete collection is a 53, 52, 42, 40, 38 and 36. It's the 36 in use now, and the others are in my spares box, all in good condition.

    Not only a collection of rings, but I amassed a collection of Suntour sprockets too. Loads of them from 13t up to 28t. The Suntour Ultra system was available in many bike shops and displayed on a big board behind the counters. Each sprocket size has a position on the freewheel so to change ratios you may need a variety of the same tooth-count but different fixings depending on where the sprocket sat with respect to its position in the cluster.

    Needless to say, I got through many sprockets – and chains! – but surprisingly not through any rings.

    Regards to all,

  21. Patrick wrote:

    Hilary wrote: The outer has quite a bit of life left in it and I don't expect I'll ever wear the inner out.

    Gosh. I am the other way round. Never worn out a big ring but I need a new small one occasionally. I've had a new one on my tourer and the Giant hybrid bike I got last August already looks like it needs one – unless the teeth on the small ring are naturally more pointy and rounded than the others.

    Chris wrote: ... going to change my name by deed poll to 'Dahon Piccolo'

    LOL (Damon Piccolo would sound better)

    I contacted Peter Quaife about his decals. They were done by Roberts, before the lacquer went on. I won't be sticking my name on my bike.

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